Friday 22 March 2019

Gina London: 'Making small changes can lead to long-term success'

The communicator: Gina London
The communicator: Gina London

Gina London

'No thanks," he said as I offered him a glass of wine. "I'm still on dry January." "Impressive," I remarked. "Especially since it's the middle of February. What's keeping you going?"

"I'm feeling great. Healthier. Clearer. And - I'm down some weight," came the response.

Not surprising. When you make a positive change, you can expect positive results. But as many of you know who may have tried - and fallen short of a dry January pledge - it's not easy to change. It's much easier to turn back to your previous patterns of behaviour.

Take the executive in a group training session I recently led. Each participant presented a short speech to camera as we recorded them. We then played back the clip providing a variety of feedback to help them better connect and land their intended message with their audience.

Sometimes, it's a refocus on body language. Eliminating nervous and distracting mannerisms like rocking back and forth, fidgeting with your hair or wringing your hands.

Sometimes there's a lack of any connecting body language at all like forgetting to turn on the expressiveness of your face or standing rigid with your hands glued to your sides.

Sometimes the delivery is what needs refocus. When you sound wooden with zero inflection or understanding of the emotion behind the words being said.

Sometimes the delivery is peppered with off-putting fillers, like "you knows" or "uhms" or "ehms". Sometimes the content needs a bit of punching up or simplifying so themes don't get lost in a drone of lofty techno-ese or buried under boring business babble.

Whenever someone's communication style needs to be unlearned and relearned - it doesn't matter whether it's a complete overhaul or a tiny refinement: change requires dedication and energy, aka hard work.

After that particular participant's colleagues and I offered our range of feedback on their performance, the person was asked to take a few minutes to edit their copy and redeliver the speech incorporating the suggested adjustments.

This time when we played back the video recording, the word-choice of their content had indeed been powered-up, but their body language was still devoid of emotion and their delivery inflection was still as flat and monotone as the cloudless, grey sky outside my window as I type this.

"Ack!" My frustrated participant complained as they watched the playback. "I couldn't remember everything I'm supposed to do all at once. It's too hard!"

Pick just one small behaviour you would like to change.

"Don't worry about it," I said reassuringly. "You're trying to change a variety of old habits. Just pick a single area and focus only on that."

And that's precisely why so many of us don't make lasting positive changes to our ineffective old ways; we're trying to do too much at once.

Go back to dry January. Did you also layer on top of that pledge - a new gym membership? A remodelling of your kitchen? A promise to also remodel your CV and your LinkedIn page to springboard you toward that new job you dream of?

Don't over think and don't overreach. One step at a time gives you more odds of long-term success.

Let's examine then three tiny changes that can make a big difference in your connecting communications. Instead of verbal delivery this time, notice that I'm spotlighting small, but important aspects of non-verbal communications.

1 GIVE A FACIAL EXPRESSION OF CARING.

This is my call to activate your face more. Do this while recording yourself on your phone. Introduce yourself as you normally would. Next, raise your eyebrows slightly and smile as you engage your eyes. Pause and imagine the life of the other person. Repeat your words from before and play both recordings. Spot the difference? Do this regularly and it will become natural and a part of your authentic delivery style. It takes effort. But it's worth it.

2 LEAN IN FROM YOUR WAIST.

Many people shift from side to side, or even aimlessly pace, but few deliberately engage by leaning in. The single gesture I want you to focus on here is to lean from your vertical axis. Whether seated or standing, a few degrees of leaning toward your audience indicates you are really engaged. Don't lean in beyond 30 degrees, however, as that may signal you're ready to jump up and leave if you're seated. If you're standing, you might even topple over!

3 POWER UP YOUR CONTENT.

I hear too many people ad libbing. Take time to carefully choose specific words for your introduction, the way you describe yourself or your call to action at the end of any presentation. Then practice saying it aloud. You won't sound stiff or robotic if you practice correctly a dozen times.

As my personal trainer wisely says, "We all start somewhere." The trick is to start. Don't worry that it's past January. There's still time.

And speaking of January, just for the record, I did manage a dry January - all the way until dinner with a friend on the evening of February 7.

I'll take that as a win.

  • With corporate clients on five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon

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